Pentagon Rebuffs Pelosi Plane Upgrade Request

The Defense Department has denied Speaker Pelosi’s request to have a C-32 at her disposal and laid down some stringent guidelines for the use of a smaller plane, ABC’s Jake Tapper reports.

The source said that Pentagon officials and the Bush administration have instead offered Pelosi use of the same plane made available to former Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.: a C-20, which seats about 12 passengers and five crew members. A C-20 can make the 700-mile flight to Hastert’s Aurora, Ill., district easily but would generally have to stop to refuel to complete the 2,800-mile trip from Washington, D.C. to the San Francisco Bay Area, depending on the headwinds.


Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. J.D. Gordon outlined the rules and restrictions governing Speaker Pelosi’s use of the C-20:

  • No more than 10 passengers (C-20’s seat only 12 passengers, not including up to 5 crew members);
  • No travel to political events;
  • Members of the speaker’s family cannot fly unless the speaker makes a request in writing. The Pelosi family has to reimburse the U.S. Treasury for the cost of a coach ticket per person for the travel, as well as for any food;
  • Members of Congress cannot fly on the plane unless their travel has been cleared with the House Committee on Standards (the Ethics Committee);
  • Pelosi’s husband can travel for free, but only for official protocol purposes.

While I’m a bit dubious of the taxpayer flying Nancy Pelosi around on an expensive military jet, the restrictions here seem silly. If the determination has been made that the Speaker’s security depends on this accommodation–which strikes me as absurd–then it would appear reasonable to both provide a plane that goes where she needs it to without refueling and to let her bring whomever she desires aboard.

If the C-32 is too lavish and expensive, a plane comparable to the C-20 but with more fuel capacity must surely be available. I’m no expert in aviation, but planes fly from DC to California all the time.

If Pelosi wanted the plane to be put at the disposal of her staff and supporters, as earlier reports suggested, that would be outrageous. But if she’s flying anyway, she should certainly be entitled to bring aboard anyone she wants up to the seating capacity of the plane. Having them reimburse the taxpayers for the cost of coach travel seems silly, too, unless their added weight is actually making that much difference in fuel economy. Paying some sort of fee for food and service, though, is reasonable enough.

Further, from a civil-military relations standpoint, I’m uneasy about Pentagon bureaucrats issuing such dictates to the Speaker of the House. The military is, after all, subordinate to Congress.* And, from a practical standpoint, alienating the Speaker might not be the wisest course. This could come back to haunt them the next time they make an appropriations request.

UPDATE: The fallout has begun:

Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., the Pelosi ally who chairs the House military appropriations subcommittee, said he has spoken to Pentagon officials about the need to provide Pelosi with a bigger plane that can fly passengers coast to coast in comfort. But he denied pressuring the Pentagon. “I don’t need to pressure them. I just tell them what they need to do,” Murtha said.

Hat tip on quote to Brad Dayspring, Communications Director, Republican Study Committee. I’d previously glanced at the Chronicle piece but didn’t get down that far.

UPDATE: Pelosi is getting some support from an unlikely source:

The White House on Thursday defended House Speaker Nancy Pelosi against Republican criticism that her desire to fly in an Air Force transport plane is an extravagance. “This is a silly story and I think it’s been unfair to the speaker,” White House spokesman Tony Snow said.

Pelosi isn’t helping herself, though, by attacking the military:

In an interview with Fox News Thursday morning, Pelosi speculated that Department of Defense officials were distorting the story as retribution for her stance against the war and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. “There are probably those in the Department of Defense who are not happy with my criticism of Secretary Rumsfeld, the war in Iraq, other waste, fraud and abuse in the Defense Department, and I guess this is their way of making their voices heard,” she said.


*Granted, Pelosi is not in the chain of command. Congress is, however, charged with oversight responsibility, confirms officer appointments, appropriates military funds, authorizes wars, and so forth.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anderson says:

    Good reader comment over at TPM, of which part here:

    Pelosi wants a non-stop to California plane. Terrific… upgrade her to the C-20H. This is the Gulfstream IV equivalent. It’s basically the same size plane but has the range she wants.

  2. Boyd says:

    My understanding is that these restrictions are based on the US Code governing use of military aircraft, as opposed to someone in the Pentagon arbitrarily deciding what restrictions should be put in place.

  3. Anderson says:

    Boyd, see a couple posts up from where I’ve linked TPM in my above comment … these restrictions didn’t seem so compelling when Hastert was Speaker.

  4. Speaker Pelosi should certainly not be artificially convenienced by having to stop to refuel, just because her predecessor’s home was much closer to DC. At the same time, no Speaker of the House needs to carry around a three ring circus either.

    As to the military not antagonizing Speaker Pelosi, the flipside is she can’t afford to be seen as hostile to the military than she already seems to be, especially for petty selfish reasons.

  5. Phil Rosler says:

    I would think, seeing as the Speakers District has banned ROTC from it’s schools because of the terrible negative effect any contact with the Military can have on the impressionable youth of San Francisco, that the Speaker would want nothing to do with the Military. I guess that makes as much sense as promoting Hastings and Murtha right after she tells us that ethics are important. Do as I say, don’t watch what I do! The Democrats new rallying cry.

  6. whatever says:

    > The military is, after all, subordinate to
    > Congress.*

    And Congress is subordinate to the People, James. And if we put it to a vote of the People, what do you think this millionairess would get on taxpayer expense?

    I would like to think we’re getting a little tired of congresspeople demanding more and more. “Security” is a bogus excuse since if something happened to one of them, there are 434 to take their place.

  7. Tim C says:

    I get upset when I see reserved Congressional parking spaces at National Airport. They’re elected officials, not royalty. They should have to plan ahead for parking just like any other citizen who uses the airport. If Pelosi isn’t traveling on official business (and not to a fundraiser with a “factfinding” trip to some nearby federal installation just to make it official), then she should fly commercial.

  8. LJD says:

    And, from a practical standpoint, alienating the Speaker might not be the wisest course. This could come back to haunt them the next time they make an appropriations request.

    As such a proponent of military spending ! Ha!

  9. Andy says:

    I mean, a whole $22,000 an hour to fly around the person second in line to the presidency. Ridiculous!

    This plane should be reserved for critical government employees only, such as Laura Bush and the Secretary of Commerce, who regularly use this large plane.

    This Pelosi-ite boondoogle could cost on the order of a million dollars! It is critically important that we spend all of our time investigating this issue. Other things, such as the 343 tons of cash we have shipped into Iraq, hundreds of millions of which were misused or unaccounted for, are not nearly as important.

    Keep up the fine work.

  10. anjin-san says:

    Anderson’s comment about the c-20H makes sense. Pelosi should not have to refule to get home, but if her friends, family, supporters etc, need to get around they should buy a ticket just like the peasants…

  11. Wayne says:

    What is the big deal about refueling? It would take an extra 30 minutes to an hour. Maybe she is afraid to land in a red state and meet those with opposing view.

  12. Steve Verdon says:

    I agree with Anderson. Give her the plane with greater range and let her take on board whomever she wants. The security justification strikes me too as a bit absurd, but if they are going to give her access to a plane, make it one that can go non-stop.

  13. Its not so much that she craves the pretty baubles of power. It’s that she is so grasping a petty in being bought by them.

    You can talk about her and Murtha taking revenge of the pentagon, but did you really think they had her in their corner to begin with?

  14. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    I understand she wants a 757 Boeing. She was elected to congress by her district in California. She was elected Speaker of the House by the Democrats. When she flies out to CA, she should get no more than the next representative to CA gets. When she acts as Speaker of the House, which would be in Wash. D.C. she can use any plane she wants to cross town. She was elected to her post by the Democratic Majority in the house. If they want to give her a bigger plane let them pay for it.

  15. Anderson says:

    Re: the security thing:

    Al-Qaeda, our #1 enemy these days, is well known for its coordinated attacks. We can’t rule out simultaneous attacks on Bush, Cheney, & Pelosi; in fact, we would be stupid not to guard against it.

    Laugh all you want about Pelosi, folks, but she *is* the Speaker, she *is* 2d in line for the Presidency, and the office is worthy of every American’s respect. I don’t think the military plane is silly at all.

  16. Continuum says:


    Which person wishes more that the scandal regarding the proper use of military aircraft by the Speaker would go away quickly and quietly?

    Is it Nancy Pelosi, or

    Could it perhaps be Denny Hastert?

    Hastert’s been awafully quiet about this item. I wonder why.

  17. Hal says:

    James, you should update this post with the statement from the House Sergeant at Arms

  18. Hal says:

    Oh, and let’s remember that the Speaker of the House is the second in line of succession, which is a damn good reason to have special arrangements taken – regardless of which party they belong to.

  19. Dave Schuler says:

    Quick, get the Spruce Goose!

  20. James Joyner says:


    The statement of Pelosi’s employee on this matter is hardly dispositive. He’s not saying anything he hasn’t been ordered to say before, anyway.

    I don’t disagree that she’s technically in the line of succession for the presidency, although I think that’s a pretty thin reed. (Incidentally, it’s arguably unconstitutional, violating separation of powers.) But that was the reason used to give Hastert the plane, too. (I never complained about that, frankly, because I’d never heard about it.)

    In any case, most of this post is pro-Pelosi.

  21. Rodney Dill says:

    A plane is definitely not out of line if her spot in the presidential succession is deemed to warrant that level of security.

    I don’t think a larger plane that makes the flight non-stop is out of line either. There should be some guidelines as to who can fly with her, just as there should have been when Hastert had the plane.

    Family or staff flying with her should not normally raise any red flags. Using it pass out ‘favors’ should be out of line, but there’s probably some gray area in the middle that would be open for discussion.

  22. auzerais says:

    I suggest that the C-30 is not good enough for HRH Pelosi. Even a 747 is simply too modest for her royal highness. In fact I propose that her good friend George Soros can easily purchase a slightly used TU-144 “Concordski” from ol’ Vlad Putin for a dime. She could use that to fly in and out of SFO, provided she keep the old Soviet paintjob in keeping with her real allegiances. If she wants to fly her family & friends, let Babs pick up the tab and landing fees.